St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Saturday, July 4, 2015

Milkweed Mayhem




We let lots of milkweeds grow on the farm.  Around the edges of the fields, fence lines, the yard, pond margins, swamp edges etc.  Many thousands I would guess.  The idea is to attract monarch butterflies, who lay eggs on milkweeds, the caterpillar feeds on milkweeds and forms the coccoon on milkweeds and becomes a butterfly on them, as well as visits the flowers for food. 

So, being such a milkweed sponsor, something in the olden days of cow pasture and fields would have been a sign of a poor farmer, I spent a few hours checking them out over the past few days.  Milkweeds also grow on the other woods and old pasture at the cabin, so we should be a haven for monarchs.  

We see a few monarchs around, but not many, maybe one or two per day.  So, have they taken advantage of our milkweeds?

The answer appears to be a complete no!   No signs at all.   They are just coming into bloom, so we will keep watching.  Even though the monarchs are not using them, there are some other bugs that seem to be active.  


Honey Bee on the milkweed bloom
Red Milkweed Beetles enjoying themselves on the 4th of July 2015


Swamp milkweeds like lower wetter soil

I think all of the photos below are aphids or aphid eggs. Ants watch over them as they make honeydew from the milkweed plant that ants like to eat.



Milkweed sap is white, bitter and sticky.  



I saw another bug, the spined soldier bug on a milkweed but didn't get a photo.  So I looked on the internet and found this photo at  Bug Link  I will be looking for these spectacular eggs!  The bug was crawling around and disappeared or flew off as I was trying to focus closely.  



Friday, July 3, 2015

Beginning of July Flowers on the Farm

At the beginning of July, an inventory of the flowering plants here on the home 40.  Flowers are flowers, whether from weeds, gardens or flower beds for the bees and hummingbirds, so I mixed in a few tame ones with the wild flowers.  
Margo hoes some geranium plants.  These plants were brought in last fall, wintered and then set out this spring.  Slowly getting going.  Margo is starting to wean herself from the collar.  The old pain from her back is gone, but the neck pain left over from surgery comes back after some activity.  Three months from surgery and 9 months to go to complete the healing. 


Mullein plant has such nice soft velvety leaves, you wouldn't realize it contains a strong numbing pain killer.  Native Americans picked the leave green like this, pounded them in the creek upstream from a fish pool and this paralyzed the fish to float them up for a few minutes to be easily caught. 

Squash are blooming in the garden

Milkweed.  Have thousands on the farm, and a few monarchs, but haven't spotted a caterpillar yet

Red Clover is a favorite of the doe and two fawns that live in the tall grass and brush between the fields on the 40 acres

Wild Daisies are here and there and in the ditches

Wild Parsnip are very much a skin irritant that can last for years.  Not good to mix with, although the bees and bugs like them. 

Squash have started to set already. Hope the deer don't decide to munch on them.  

Dill in the garden comes up volunteer from seed each year.  This time it is in the strawberry bed

Sumac are blooming in the ravine where the creek has almost stopped running -- just after rains now. 

More Clover -- could be Alsack clover

Planter with some kind of climbing tame yellow flower seems to have taken off with the pansies.

The grasses are blooming, a difficult time for those with hayfever.  I used to have it, but sometime a few years back it seemed to disappear. 

Grasses are visited by pollen seekers too.  
The yellow flower with the small toothed leaves grows in the old cow pasture along with the other wild plants.  I think these are called potentilla or cinquefoil.  They have a shiny flower, not very large, but quite pretty

This moth on the milkweed bloom is probably the ctenucha virginia (I had to look for moth with orange head and blue neck to find that name).  The caterpillar of this looks quite like what the Fuller Brush salesman might have brought on his monthly sales trip to the farm.  

This photo from the Internet -- I think I have seen these around in fall along with the wooly bears
Unknown small flower.  Below is an enlargement of a cluster

White clover variation

A colony of aphids on the top of a weed.  They are insects which suck plant juices/sap and then excrete a sweet 'honeydew'.  Ants "raise" them for the honeydew. So we have ant farmers subletting some of our weeds to grow aphids.  I charge no rent as long as they stay on the weeds and out of the garden.  

I need to study up on the types of grasses that grow in the midwest.  Margo took horticulture in college -- 2 year course and had a good identification book, except it was black and white photos. I need a color one.  The problem is, there is a book for grasses in the midwest but it has 700 color pictures which makes me think I might never figure them out!
Grass Identification for the Midwest

A ground cherry in the orchard -- pygmy groundcherry I think.  They grow wild in my sand garden and in the old sandy fields.  They have an edible berry that actually tastes OK, similar to the tame groundcherry. 

Fleabane comes in shades from white to purple and is a rather pretty tiny flower that stands tall.  

A yarrow I think they range from white to yellow here. 

Yarrow are interesting if you move close.  
 


Swamp milkweed soon to bloom

More of the wild parsnip

Hairy vetch has claimed a spot on the hillside
It climbs over the rest of the grass and weeds to get sunlight and attract bees.  The seeds are in pods, tiny round black bb's. A legume, it produces its own nitrogen and grows lushly on the sand barrens too. 

Thistles must have lots of pollen and nectar as the honey bees seem to prefer them. 

Seed heads forming on the wild parsnips.  

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Around the Block II

Taking up where I left off of the tour of the road block immediately SW of the farm, I am coming down the big hill to cross Wolf Creek and the River Road, the beginning of the Sterling Sand Barrens. 
Looking west from the top of the big hill on 250th Avenue.  Below is Wolf Creek and the Sterling Sand Barrens and in the distance MN.  

The view from the top of the hill on a clear day is 20 miles by my guess.  When someone called in a fire on the barrens, the Cushing Fire Department stopped at this hill to try to see where the smoke was coming from

As we get to the bottom of the hill, just ready to cross the bridge over Wolf Creek, on the south is the gravel pit that supplies gravel for the Town of Sterling.  The transition from clay loam to sand is banded with gravel.  The left pile is clay from the rebuild of Purgatory road east of the Bass Lake School house to be mixed with the sandy gravel to make a road gravel that "sets up."


Looking back east up the hill to the good farmland.  Farmers could make a living with dairy cows in this direction.  To the west, the sand barrens land was too poor for good pasture, too buggy for animals, and in general not a farming area. 

Wolf Creek runs clear -- at one time an excellent trout stream, but now as it is almost all on private land, not stocked as far as I know, and the natural trout seem to have gone.  A few miles and it joins the St Croix River


Fire department water site -- can refill the water trucks.  Out here in the country these are the fire hydrants.  

As we come to the River Road, established as a logging trail in the early 1840s likely following an Indian trail of much earlier origin we look south and north.  The green house is on the left-south, and was the Jones home when I was young.  Joe Jones, a black man (or part black man)  moved into here with his white wife and children.  We went to school with them and although they were a different shade of brown than the rest of us, I don't really remember that we thought of them any differently than any other kids.  We had children in school that had Native American roots too, and I don't remember that any of this mattered.  We even had a boy who was gay (of course neither he nor we knew that), but other than his insistence on playing with the girls instead of the boys, I can't remember that we cared (although it would have been nice if we could have gotten him to play softball--but several girls liked to do that so we got by).  


The driveway to what was the John Edwards home on the corner at River Road.  Dennis, the son was a school mate and had it difficult as his parents were divorced and his father an alcoholic.  Dennis was an ambitious lad, worked for the neighbors for his support and at age 14 bought his own car and drove to Denver to live with his mother. 


All that is left of the Mac Fors (and Nancy Nelson) farm is the lilac bushes.  A two story house, barn and outbuildings on the sandy lowland right on Wolf Creek was a better farm than just the sandy land further west.  The lowlands along the creek were more fertile and the land across the creek better.  Mac raised string beans for Stokely's out of Milltown in the days when they were all hand picked by migrants (the migrants being the local farm wives and children).  I was about 4 or 5 when I first earned money on the field in that was in the next photo.  Mac gave us each a row, a sack and we picked our way to the end filling the sack.  When we were done for the day, he weighed our sacks and paid us for the beans (maybe 35 cents) and then hauled them to Milltown to resell to Stokelys.  The biggest memory I have of this is his dog, that I was playing with, bit me in the lip and required a couple of stitches.  My fault and my bean money was lost as J. A. Riegal took all the money I made for the summer to put in 2 stitches -- an X in my lip.  

Imagine a field of string beans of 5 acres along the road, with a dozen kids and mothers hunched over picking string beans to make some money to buy school clothes

A small creek comes from the big swamps to the west and goes under Evergreen Av just past the string bean field above as it joins Wolf Creek. In the olden days, it was a huge tamarack swamp, cut and sawed for railroad ties in the 1890s.  The plantation on the west of planted trees were small when I rode past here with Floyd Harris and his station wagon school bus in the 1950s headed down the road to the Wolf Creek School  I think it was planted under one of the CCC or WPA programs to put people to work.  


The silo and house are left of the farm that straddled Wolf Creek here.  Uncle Ralph Haselhuhn and his wife, Esther Hanson (Dad's younger sister) lived here in the 1950s for a time.  The barn is gone.  The house left empty.  It was the home of David Bergstrom for a time, inherited by his famous country western singer daughter, Thelma Holland of the Hank and Thelma duo.  Her son, Dubber (Richard) also a musician owns it now.  It needs some TLC. 


A tiny cemetery along the old trail that went from the falls at St Croix to the Pineries in the north.  A child died on the trail and the house above was the Ives Stopping place on the trail for overnight bed, supper, breakfast and food for the oxen or horses.  Ives let the folks bury the child there and a few more folks were buried there until the Wolf Creek Cemetery got started up down the road.

Skipped right to Evergreen Av looking east up the hill where the sand turns back to clay and over Wolf Creek.  

Nothing left of the Rutsch Farm on the north (newer Swenson built house) and nothing left of the Peterson farm on the right (but also a replacement house)

The house hidden in the trees is the 1928 Sears and Roebuck home that Bert Brenizer built on his farm.  A few old out buildings but the old barn is gone.  I helped hay at Bert's place too.  We used a rope hay sling to put hay in the mow.  

The wooded lot on the right is all that is left of John Nelson's 1905 built farm.  A house, windmill and old barn were there when I was young. 

Under the white siding of the Noyes house is the original log home.  The barn is still standing and in use as are some of the outbuildings. I spent many weeks working here in the summer and ate many meals inside cooked by Anna Ramstrom and presided over by Leonard and then Raymond Noyes.  

The big tree is one of the popular/cottonwood trees that John Nelson planted after he returned from trying North Dakota farming in 1912.  He built the house and his 21 children were born here.  His wife died in her 40s so he married a woman with 5 more children, the youngest being our neighbor Jennie Nelson (98 years old).  This is, since 1941, the Hanson Farm where a rabbit plague threatens to eat the geraniums